Thursday, June 01, 2017

The High Tech Vet Tech: Designing a Carbon Fiber CT Table for Horses at UC Davis Vet School

There's a table under those mattresses. Did you ever wonder what structure supports an anesthetized, recumbent 1,200-pound horse when its limbs are inside a CT scanner? (UC Davis photo)
Did you ever wonder what structure supports an anesthetized, recumbent 1,200-pound horse when its limbs are inside a CT scanner? At the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, a staff veterinary technician used high tech materials to engineer a lightweight table capable of holding heavyweight animals while their lower limbs are in the CT scanner.

Performing a CT scan on a horse is a laborious process that takes a team of nearly a dozen imaging technicians and veterinarians. It involves forklifts and cranes. Skilled veterinary technicians who have mastered this task after years of repetition.

Thanks to an innovative UC Davis imaging technician, however, that process just got a lot less complicated.

Jason Peters, RVT, RLAT, of the university large animal hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging Service, recently created a new CT table that will drastically improve how scans on horses are performed.

“We set out to acquire a new large animal table for CT,” said Peters, noting that the existing table has been in use at UC Davis for 30 years. “Due to our room configuration, however, we could not purchase a pre-existing table. So, we decided to build our own.”

Jason Peters, RVT, RLAT, a technician in the UC Davis vet school's large animal hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging Service, with his new CT table. (UC Davis photo)

After discussing types of materials for the project, and knowing they would need to build a massive table that could handle thousands of pounds, carbon fiber stood out as an ideal material. Carbon fiber is a new age material that can be molded to take any shape and strength. NASA uses carbon fiber for many applications in the space program, thanks to its superior strength-to-weight ratio, high stiffness, chemical resistance, and temperature tolerances. Carbon fiber is also used in exotic sports cars (such as the Ferrari and Lamborghini), motorcycles, bicycles and sail boats.

“Just because something is made from carbon fiber, however, doesn’t mean it’s strong,” said Peters. “If it’s not molded correctly, that greatly affects the strength and durability of the piece. So we made sure to work with professionals who knew the best techniques.”

Using plans developed in conjunction with the UC Davis College of Engineering, Peters worked with Finishline Advanced Composites, a California carbon fiber manufacturer that specializes in automotive parts. 

Together, they designed a table that weighs only 100 pounds, but can support up to 10,000 pounds in any given area. This ensures that the table can handle off-balanced loads and certain impacts to the table during loading and unloading of a large animal patient. The old table weighs twice as much and is not nearly as strong.

Another drawback to the old table is its stationary position. If a horse needed both front and hind legs scanned, the horse would need to be physically repositioned by the technicians. Keeping this in mind, Peters incorporated slide actuators under the table that enable it to move side-to-side and to-and-from the CT machine. Now, the horse can remain stationary, and the table can be easily moved into position.

Design points: Blue slide actuators under the table allow the horse's front and hind limbs to be placed into the scanner. In addition, locking pins in the table legs can be removed, and the 100-pound table is moved out of place when a small animal scan follows a large animal. (UC Davis photo)

When a small animal CT is immediately following one for a horse, the new table can be quickly dismantled by easily removing locking pins in the legs and lifting the table out of place. Peters estimates that it now takes half the time it used to take to switch from small animal to large animal.

Extension plates were also manufactured to provide an extra surface for anatomy that does not fit on the main table. These pieces were made in the same manner as the main table and were engineered to hinge onto the main table at any given point.

The new table accommodates the scanning requirements for imaging skulls and extremities of horses, cows and exotic animals.

Thanks for UC Davis for assistance with this article.

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